Culture, Power, Place - Begond “Culture" Space...

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Unformatted text preview: Begond “Culture": Space. Identity. and the Politics of Difference AKHIL. GUPTA AND JAMES FERGUSON For a subject whose central rite of passage is fieldwork, whose romance has rested on its exploration of the remote (“the most other of others” [Hannerz 1986]) , Whose critical function is seen to lie in its juxtaposi~ tion of radically difierent ways of being (located “elsewhere”) with that of the anthropologists’ own, usually Western culture, there has been Surprisingly little self-consciousness about the issue of space in anthropological theory. (Some notable exceptions are Appadurai 1986, 1988b; Hannerz 1987; Rosaldo 1988, 1989a). This essay aims at a critical exploration of the way received ideas about space and place have shaped and continue to shape anthropological common sense. In particular, we Wish to explore how the renewed interest in theoriz- ing space in postmodernist and feminist theory (for eXample, in Fou~ cault 1980;}ameson 1984; Baudrillard 1988c; Deleuze and Guattari 1987; Anzaldfia 1987; Kaplan 1987; Martin and Mohanty 1986) — embodied in such notions as surveillance, panopticism, simulacra, deterritorialization, postmodern hyperspace, borderlands, and mar— ginality—forces us to reevaluate such central analytic concepts in an- thropology as that of “culture” and, by extension, the idea of “cultural difierence.” ' Representations of space in the social sciences are remarkably de— pendent on images of break, rupture, and disjunction. The distinctive- ness of societies, nations, and cultures is predicated on a seemingly unproblematic division of space, on the fact that they occupy “natu- rally” discontinuous spaces. The premise of discontinuity forms the starting point from which to theorize contact, conflict, and contradic- 34 AKHIL; GUP'U-k AND JAMES FERGUSON _ tion between cultures and societies. For example, the representation of the world as a collection of “countries,” as on most world maps, sees it as an inherently fragmented space, divided by diEerent colors into diverse national societies, each “rooted” in its proper place (compare Malkki, this volume). It is so taken for granted that each country embodies its own distinctive culture and society that the terms “so- ciety” and “culture” are routinely simply appended to the names of nationustates, as when a tourist visits India to understand “Indian cul- ture” and “Indian society” or Thailand to experience “Thai culture” or the United States to get a whiff of “American culture.” - Of course, the geographical territories that cultures and societies are believed to map onto do not have to be nations. We do, for exam- ple, have ideas about culture areas that overlap several nation-states, or of multicultural nations. On a smaller seale perhaps are our disciplin— ary assumptions about the association of culturally unitary groups (tribes or peoples) with “their” territories: thus “the Nuer” live in “Nuerland” and so forth. The clearest illustration of this kind of think— ing are the classic “ethnographic maps” that purported to display the spatial distribution of peoples, tribes, and cultures. But in all these cases, space itself becomes a kind of neutral grid on which cultural difference, historical memory, and societal organization is inscribed. It is in this way that space functions as a central organizing principle in the social sciences at the same time that it disappears from analytical purview. This assumed isomorphism of space, place, and culture results in some significant problems. First, there is the issue of those who inhabit the border, that “narrow strip along steep edges” (Anzaldua 1987:3) of national boundaries. The fiction of cultures as discrete, objectlike phenomena occupying discrete spaces becomes implausible for those who inhabit the borderlands. Related to border inhabitants are those who live a life of border crossings—migrant workers, nomads, and members of the transnational business and professional elite. What is “the culture” of farm workers who spend half a year in Mexico and half in the United States? Finally, there are those who cross borders more or less permanently— immigrants, refugees, exiles, and expatri— ates. In their case, the disjuncture of place and culture is especially clear: Khmer refugees in the United States take “Khmer culture” with - them in the same complicated way that Indian immigrants in England transport “Indian culture” to their new homeland. A second set of problems raised by the implicit mapping of cultures BEYOND “CULTURE" 35 onto places is to account for cultural differences within a locality. “Mul- ticulturalism” is both a feeble recognition of the fact that cultures have lost their moorings in definite places and'anattempt to subsume this plurality of cultures within the framework of a national identity. Sim- ilarly, the idea of “subcultures" attempts to preserve the idea of dis- tinct “cultures” while acknowledging the relation of diflbrent cultures to a dominant culture within the same geographical and territorial space. Conventional accounts of ethnicity, even when used to describe cultural differences in settings where people from different regions _ live side by side, rely on an unproblematic link between identity and place.1 While such concepts are suggestive because they endeavor to Stretch the naturalized association of culture with place, they fail to interrogate this assumption in a truly fundamental manner. We need ”to ask how to deal with cultural difference, while abandoning received ideas of (localized) culture. Third, there is the important question of postcoloniality. To which places do the hybrid cultures of postcoloniality belong? Does the colo- nial encounter create a “new culture” in both the colonized and colonizing country, or does it destabilize the notion that nations and cultures are isomorphic? As discussed below, postcoloniality further problematizes the relationship between space and culture. Last and most important, challenging the ruptured landscape of independent nations and autonomous culture's raises the question of understanding social change and cultural transformation as situated within interconnected spaces. The presumption that spaces are auton— omous has enabled the power of topography successfully to conceal the topography of power. The inherently fragmented space assumed in the definition of anthropology as the study of cultures (in the plu- ral) may have been one of the reasons behind the long—standing failure to write anthropology’s history as the biography ofimperialism. For if one begins with the premise that spaces have always been hier- archically interconnected, instead of naturally disconnected, then cul- tural and social change becomes not a matter of cultural contact and articulation but one of rethinking difference through connection. To illustrate, let us examine one powerful model of cultural change that attempts to relate dialectically the local to larger spatial arenas: articulation. Articulation models, whether they come from marxist structuralism or “moral economy,” posit a primeval state of autonomy (usually labeled “precapitalist”) that is then violated by global capital- ism. The result is that both local and larger spatial arenas are trans— 36 AKHIL. GUPTA AND JAMES FERGUSON . formed, the local more than the global to be sure, but not necessarily in apredetermined directibn. This notion of articulation allows one to explore the richly unintended consequences of, say, colonial capitalw ism, with which loss occurs alongside invention. Yet, by taking a meme isting, localized “community” as a given starting point, it fails to exam- ine sufliciently the processes (such as the structures of feeling that pervade the imagining of community) that go into the construction of space as place or locality in' the first instancefIn other words, instead of assuming the autonomy of the primeval community, we need to exam— ine how it was formed as a community out of the interconnected space that always already existed. Colonialism then represents the displace- ment of one form of interconnection by another. This is not to deny that colonialism or an expanding capitalism does indeed have pro— foundly dislocating eifects on existing Societies. But by always fore~ grounding the spatial distribution of hierarchical power relations, we can better understand the processes whereby a space achieves a dis- tinctive identity as a place. Keeping in mind that notions of locality or community refer both to a demarcated physical space and to clusters of interaction, we can see that the identity of a place emerges by the in- tersection of its specific involvement in a system of hierarchically orga- nized spaces with its cultural construction as a community or locality. It is for this reasonthat what Fredric Jameson (1984) has dubbed “postmodern hyperspace” has so fundamentaily challenged the con venient fiction that mapped cultures onto places and peoples. In the capitalist West, a Fordist regime of accumulation, emphasizing ex- tremely large production facilities, a relatively stable work force, and the welfare state combined to create urban “communities” whose out- lines were most clearly visible in company towns (Harvey 1989; Mike Davis 1986; Mandel 1975). The counterpart of this in the interna— tio‘nalarena was that multinational corporations, under the leader- ship of the United States, steadily exploited the raw materials, primary goods, and cheap labor of the independent nation—states of the postco- lonial “Third World.” Multiiateral agencies and powerful Western states preached and, where necessary, militarily enforced the “laws” of the market to encourage the international flow of capital, whereas nationai immigration policies ensured that there would be no free (that is, anarchic, disruptive) flow of labor to the high-wage islands in the capitalist core. F ordist patterns of accumulation have now been replaced by a regime of flexible accumulation — characterized by small-batch production, rapid shifts in product lines, extremely fast BEYOND "CU bTURE” 37 movements of capital to exploit the smallest differentials in labor and raw material costs—~built on a more sophisticated communications and information network and better means of transporting goods and people. At the same time, the industrial production of culture, en- tertainment, and leisure that first achieved something approaching global distribution during the Fordist era led, paradoxically, to the invention of new forms of cultural difference and new forms of imag- ining community. Something like a transnational public sphere has I certainly rendered any strictly bounded sense of community or 10- cality obsolete. At the same time, it has enabled the creation offorms of solidarity and identity that do not rest on an appropriation of space where contiguity and face—to-face contact are paramount. In the pul- verized space of postmodernity, space has not become irrelevant: it has been re territorialized in away that does not conform to the experi- ence of space that characterized the era of high modernity. It is this reterritorialization of space that forces us to reconceptualize funda- mentally the politics of community, solidarity, identity, and cultural difference. IMAGINED COMMUNITIES. IMAGINED PLACES People have undoubtedly always been more mobile and identities less fixed than the static and typologizing approaches of classical anthro- pology would suggest. But today, the rapidly expanding and quicken— ing mobility of people combines with the refusal of cultural products and practices to “stay put” to give a profound sense ofa loss of ter- ritorial roots, of an erosion of the cultural distinctiveness of places, and of ferment in anthropological theory. The apparent deterritorial— ization of identity that accompanies such processes has made James Clifford’s question (1988:2275) a key one for recent anthropological inquiry: “What does it mean, at the end of the twentieth century, to speak . . . of a ‘native land’? What processes rather than essences are involved in present experiences of cultural identity?” Such questions are, of course, not completely new, but issues of collective identity do seem to take on a special character today, when more and more of us live in What Edward Said (1 979: 18) has called “a generalized condition of homelessness,” a world where identities are increasingly coming to be, if not wholly deterritorialized, at least dif- ferently territorialized. Refugees, migrants, displaced and stateless peoples— these are perhaps thefirst to live out these realities in their 38 AK-HIL. GUPTA AND JAMES FERGUSON most complete form, but the problem is more general. In a world of diaspora, transnational culture flows, and mass movements of popula- tions, old—fashioned attempts to map the globe as a set of culture regions or homelands are bewildered by a dazzling array of postcolo— nial simulacra, doublings and redoublings, as India and Pakistan seem to reappear in postcoionial simulation in London, prerevolution Te- heran rises from the ashes in Los Angeles, and a thousand similar cultural dramas are played out in urban and rural settings all across the globe. In this culture-play of diaspora, familiar lines between “here” and “there,“ center and periphery, colony and metropole be- come blurred. Where “here” and “there” become blurred in this way, the cultural certainties and fixities of the metropole are upset as surely, if not in the same way, as are those of the colonized periphery. In this sense, it is not only the displaced who experience a displacement (compare Bhabha 1989:66). For even people remaining in familiar and ancestral places find the nature of their relation to place ineluctably changed and the illusion of a natural and essential connection between the place and the culture broken. “Englishness,” for instance, in contemporary, in- ternationalized England is just as complicated and nearly as deter- ritorialized a notion as Palestinian—mess or Armenian-ness, for “En- gland” (“the real England”) refers less to a bounded place than to an imagined state of being or a moral location. Consider, for instance, the following quote from a young white reggae fan in the ethnically cha— otic neighborhood of Balsall Heath in Birmingham: There’s no such thing as “England” any more . . . welcome to India brothers! This is the Caribbeanl . . . Nigeria! . . . There is no England, man. This is What is coming. BalsalI‘I-Ieath is the center of the melting pot, ’cos all I ever see when Igo out is half— Arab, haif~Pakistani, halfJamaican, half-Scottish, half-Irish. I know ’cos I am [half- Scottish / half-Irish] . . . who am I? . . . Tell me who I belong to? They criticize me, the good old England. Alright, where do I belong? You know, I was brought up with blacks, PakisIanis, Africans, Asians, everything, you name it . . . who do I belong to? . . . I’mjust a broad person. The earth is mine . . . you know we was not born in Jamaica. . . we was not born in “England.“ We were born here, man. It's our right. That’s the way I see it. That’s the way I deal with it. (In Hebdige 1987:1 58—59) The broad-minded acceptance of cosmopolitanism that seems to be implied here is perhaps more the exception thanthe rule, but there BEYOND "CULTURE" 39 can be little doubt that the explosion of a culturally stable and uni- tary “England” into the cut-and—mix “here” of contemporary Balsall Heath is an example of a phenomenon that 1s real and spreading. It IS clear that the erosion of such supposedly natural connections between peoples and places has not led to the modernist specter of global cultural homogenization (Clifford 1988). But “cultures” and “peo- ples,” however persistent they may be, cease to be plausibly identifi- able as spots on the map. But the irony of these times is that as actual places and localities become ever more blurred and indeterminate, ideas of culturally and ethnically distinct places become perhaps even more salient It 1s here that it becomes most visible how imagined communities (Anderson 1983) come to be attached to imagined places, as displaced peoples. cluster around remembered or imagined homelands, places, or com- munities in a world that seems increasingly to deny such firm ter— ritorialized anchors in their actuality. In such a world, it becomes ever more important to train an anthropological eye on processes of con- struction of place and homeland by mobile and displaced people. Remembered places have, of course, often served as symbolic an- chors of community for dispersed people. This has long been true of immigrants, who use memory of place to construct their new lived world imaginatively. “Homeland” in this way remains one of the most powerful unifying symbols for mobile and displaced peoples, though the relation to homeland may be very differently constructed in dif- ferent settings. Moreover, even in more completely deterritorialized times and settings —— settings not only where “home” is distant but also - where the very notion of “home” as a durably fixed place is in doubt”— aspects of our lives remain highly “localized” in a social sense. We need to give up naive ideas of communities as literal entities (compare Anthony Cohen 1985) but remain sensitive to the profound “bi- focality” that characterizes locally lived existences in a globally inter- ‘ connected world and to the powerful role of place in the “near view” of lived experience (Peters, this volume). The partial erosion of spatially bounded social worlds and the grow- ing role of the imagination of places from a distance, however, them- selves must be situated within the highly spatialized terms of a global capitalist economy. The special challenge here is to use a focus on the way space is imagined (but not imaginary) as a way to explore the mechanisms through which such conceptual processes of place mak— ing meet the changing global economic and political conditions of 40 AKHIL. GUP'ITA AND JAMES FERGUSON lived spaces— the relation, we could say, between place and space. For important tensions may arise when places that have been imagined at a distance must become lived spaces. Places, after all, are always imag— ined in the context of political-economic determinations that have a logic of their own. Territoriality IS thus reinscribed at Just the point it threatens to be erased. The idea that space is made meaningful is, of course, a familiar one to anthropologists; indeed, there is hardly an older or better estab- lished anthropological truth. East or west, inside or outside, left or right, mound or floodplain—from at least the time of Durkheim, anthropologists have known that the experience of space is always socially constructed. The more urgent task would seem to be to politi- cize this uncontestable observation. With meaning-making under- stood as a practice, how are spatial meanings established? Who has the power to make places of spaces? Who contests this? What is at stake? Such questions are particularly important where the meaningful association of places and peoples is concerned. As Malkki (this vol- ume) shows, two naturalisms must be challenged here. The first is what we will call the ethnological habit of taking the association of a - culturally unitary group (the “tribe” or “people”) and “its” territory as natural, which we discussed in the previous section. A second and closely related naturalism is what we will call the national habit of taking the association of citizens of states and their territories as natu- ral. Here the exemplary image is of the conventional world map of nation-states, through which schoolchildren are taught such decep- tively simple-sounding beliefs as that France is where the French live, America is where the Americans live, and so on. Even a casual observer knows that not only Americans live in America, and it is clear that the very question of what is a “re...
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